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Q+A: U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security under scrutiny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Homeland, Security, created following the September 11 attacks, is under scrutiny after President Barack Obama blamed human and systemic failures for a Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt.

Following are questions and answers about the agency:

WHAT IS DHS?

The department’s prime responsibility is to protect the U.S. homeland from terrorist attack and lead a unified response if one does occur. President George W. Bush founded the Office of Homeland Security in an executive order on October 8, 2001, after the September 11 attacks revealed serious flaws in the country’s protection measures. It is in charge of border and transportation security to keep militants and explosives out of the country and has the lead in preparing the U.S. response to domestic emergencies, developing chemical, biological and nuclear countermeasures and producing a picture of threats distilled from raw intelligence gathered across the government. The department is currently led by Obama appointee Janet Napolitano, who replaced Bush appointee Michael Chertoff.

WHY WAS DHS NECESSARY?

September 11 was a catastrophic failure to connect the dots between scraps of information collected by various U.S. intelligence agencies and draw the conclusion, clear in hindsight, that a determined plot to attack the United States was afoot. Part of the problem was that national security duties had been spread among 40 different federal agencies, and funded through roughly 2,000 separate congressional appropriations accounts. U.S. lawmakers had been worried by this set-up for years, and a national homeland security agency was proposed in March 2001, based on the recommendations of a U.S. commission on future security needs.

HOW BIG IS HOMELAND SECURITY?

It has roughly 225,000 employees and a current budget of $55 billion, which has climbed from $19.5 billion in 2002. Setting up the department represented a huge reorganization of government activities. Among agencies it absorbed were the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

HOW WAS IT SET UP?

With ample evidence of how things had gone wrong, Bush announced 11 days after September 11 that he would create an Office of Homeland Security and named Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as its first director. Bush’s October 8 executive order was followed by other presidential decisions to give the office teeth and on June 6, 2002, Bush proposed creating a permanent cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Only Congress has the power to set up a federal agency of this reach. The House of Representatives passed its version of the Homeland Security Act on July 26; the Senate backed it, with some amendments, on November 19, and Bush signed it into law on November 25, 2002.

It motto is: “Preserving our Freedoms, Protecting America”.

Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Cynthia Osterman

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